No. 9 Florida Atlantic ends No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson's fairy-tale run
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Fairleigh Dickinson came up just a little short this time.
Johnell Davis scored 29 points, Alijah Martin added 14 and Florida Atlantic ended underdog FDU's magical March by outlasting the No. 16 seed 78-70 on Sunday night in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament.
The ninth-seeded Owls (33-3) needed everything they had to put away the Knights (21-16), the nation's smallest team and a surprising winner Friday night against 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey and top-seeded Purdue in just the second 16-over-1 upset i n men's tournament history.
It will be FAU, not FDU, which will play Tennessee in the Sweet 16 on Thursday at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“My team just believed in me,” said Davis, who added 12 rebounds, five assists and five steals. “It’s just a dream come true."
The Knights couldn't come up with an encore after eliminating Purdue, but not before putting up a fight to the finish. After the final horn, coach Tobin Anderson and FDU's players walked across the floor to thank their fans, most of whom never expected to spend five days in Ohio watching their team make history.
Demetre Roberts scored 20 points and Sean Moore had 14 for FDU, which didn't even win the Northeast Conference tournament before becoming an NCAA team that won't soon be forgotten.
“We always talk about 6-0 runs, we were one 6-0 run away from Sweet 16," Anderson said. "We went toe to toe with a top-five team in the country, and this team is a Top 25 team in the country. We went toe to toe the last few days with two great teams and didn’t back down, didn’t go away. We’re not just happy to be here.”
FAU, which edged Memphis on Friday for the school's first NCAA tourney win, finally took control late in the second half of a game that was played at high speeds and at times looked more like a playground pickup game.
FDU was still within 67-64 when Davis fought for a rebound and made a putback. After Roberts missed a long 3, FAU’s Bryan Greenlee knocked down a 3-pointer and the Owls pushed their lead to 10.
The Knights managed to get within 76-70, and still had a chance when Greenlee missed two free throws. But Roberts, FDU's lightning-quick 5-foot-8 guard, misfired on a layup, and the graduate student who followed Anderson to FDU from a Division II school began to untuck his jersey knowing his tournament was over.
Anderson, who turned around a program that went 4-22 a year ago, told his players not to foul and let the final seconds run off. But FAU’s Martin tried and missed a 360-degree dunk, leading to an awkward exchange and tense postgame handshake between Anderson and Owls coach Dusty May.
“I apologized to him for that but also reminded him we’re the adults," May said. "We’ve got to fix that behavior. It’s part of the game. I apologized to him.”
FDU came up short in its bid to become the first No. 16 to win twice in the tournament. The same thing happened to UMBC five years ago, when it shocked defending champion Virginia and then lost to Kansas State in the second round.
Strikingly similar in their playing styles on the floor, there was also a commonality between the fan bases as “F-D-U” chants from one side of Nationwide Arena were met with cries of “F-A-U” from the other as the teams traded baskets.
At the morning shootaround, FDU assistant coach Tom Bonacum told his players he had overheard a group of FAU players in the hallway saying they thought the Knights looked like they were ready to go home.
Anderson used that to motivate his squad during shootaround.
“Four-minute games, correct?” he asked them. “Win the four minutes, four minutes at a time. No. 16 seeds have never made the Sweet 16. You can do something that’s never been done before.”
The Knights came close.
FAU: The Owls will carry a nine-game winning streak into their matchup against the Volunteers. FAU does have some experience against SEC schools this season, losing at Ole Miss and winning at Florida.
FDU: The nation’s smallest team became the tourney’s biggest story. Anderson said he and his assistant coaches have already heard from players interested in joining them in Teaneck, New Jersey. ___
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